Q&A With 800 Degrees Pizza’s Chef Anthony Carron
In addition to loving food, I also love a good food deal. So when a friend of a friend introduced me to 800 Degrees’ Instagram Pizza of the Day deal, let’s just say I ended up eating a lot of delicious pizzas for $5. Yup, a whole pizza for 5 bucks. A steal! Crazypants! It’s a deal that has garnered the build-you-own Neapolitan pizza chain lots of press (including this article in LA Weekly) and helped it grow its social media presence as it continues to expand very quickly. 800 Degrees opened its original location in Westwood in 2012, thanks to an ingenious idea by Chef Anthony Carron.
And from there, build-your-own pizzas have become a trend, but 800 Degrees remains the OG of them all — and all the locations are always booming. I once waited on a line around the block at the Westwood location, but believe me, it was worth it. During a recent photoshoot at the Westwood location, Curron was nice enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
What was the inspiration for 800 Degrees?
I was working as the corporate executive chef for Michael Mina and running all of his empire out in San Francisco and Las Vegas. In about 2005 or so, I started to notice a few Neapolitan places here and there around the country, doing wood-burning pizza really authentic and they were always busy. So I started doing some research about it and studying it. Then there was literally this moment where I was laying in bed one day and I thought, “Wait a minute, people cook a pizza in 90 seconds, so what’s to stop you from setting it up like an assembly line?”
That was literally the lightening bolt moment. I got tingles and shivers. I jumped out of bed, did a quick internet search, and saw that there was nothing like it. I started calling everybody I knew, going “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God — I have it. I have the idea.” It took three years to find somebody to fund it and when we did that, we finally got this open on January 1, 2012.
And it’s expanded quickly since then.
It’s blown away everybody’s expectations. When we opened, I was praying we’d sell 300 pizzas a day — we wound up selling 900 pizzas a day for the first week. We were scrambling to catch up. The success of this first one allowed us to expand and to go to cool places like Las Vegas and LAX. We’ve opened in Dubai. We’re opening in Japan in April.
The build-you-own pizza has blown up since, hasn’t it?
It started here. The crazy line we had down the block is what caused these imitators. Honestly, they’re all doing pretty well, I think, but none of them are really quality focused and that’s where we try to stand out. There’s even two more in Westwood Village — Open Oven and Pieology. They’re using a dough press to stamp out their dough, their bake times are five minutes, and they’re cooking in a gas oven. It’s free toppings, so you know they’re not putting anything good out. We roast whole chickens in wood-burning ovens, pick and shred them ourselves. It’s a totally kind of level of quality, even though the price is about the same. Their toppings are free, but ours are a buck and you get good toppings. My background is fine dining. We use all the same purveyors I used with Michael Mina and same ingredients.
Do you find that most people like to build their own pizzas using the high quality ingredients or do they go with the ones already on the menu?
It’s about 70 percent build-your-own and 30 percent specialty.
How did the insanely popular “Pizza of the Day” Instagram special come to be and how has it affected business?
One of our pizza makers is a student at UCLA in marketing and a really smart kid. He came to me with this idea — at the time, we had 400 followers on Instagram. We’ve been running it about a year and now we have 19,000 — it’s been crazy how fast it’s grown. If you assume we only use about three toppings at a time, there’s 53,148 possible pizzas, so we decided to do a different one every single day for the next however many years that is. It’s half off and people love it.
Here in Westwood, we have a bunch of students and if it’s a good one like pepperoni and mushroom, we might sell 350 of them in one day. If it’s kind of an ordinary one, like maybe marinara with vegetables, we might sell 50. It just depends on what it is.
What is your favorite on the menu?
My favorite is the picante. I love spicy foods. I love our Calabrian chili. You can’t find them anywhere. That with the sopressata and a little garlic is my favorite. Simple and spicy.
Be sure to follow 800 Degrees on Instagram for its Pizza of the Day special!
Photos By Eric Shin